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A smart highway that keeps traffic flowing in Hangzhou, with digital twins

(May 2023) In most parts of the world, when two vehicles are involved in a small collision, they both stop right where they are and wait for police to sort them out. Traffic needs to slow down and veer around the obstacle. These minor fender-benders often lead to major traffic jams as well as secondary accidents. 

For passengers headed to the airport to catch a flight, traffic delays may lead to missed flights. In some cases, congestion might even disrupt airport operations when the number of delayed passengers is too large or the flight crew is also stuck on the road.

The highway’s end near Xiaoshan airport

The highway’s end near Xiaoshan airport

The Airport Expressway leading to Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport has undergone a digital transformation to run smoother and ensure that vehicles don’t suffer undue delays. Now, when a minor traffic accident occurs on the expressway, police no longer have to rush to the site. The drivers involved don’t need to stop or even communicate with each other. Instead, officers collect evidence from their office and issue a report that can be used with insurance companies. In addition, if the investigation reveals that one of the drivers committed an infraction, penalties will be issued accordingly and sent to the driver’s smartphone. The system has been in operation since October 2022.

Narin Khurana

An illegally parked car shows up in the video feed (left pane, lower right) and in the digital twin (right pane, blue circle).

“With a population of 12 million, Hangzhou is among China’s 15 largest cities. The Airport Expressway spans 20 kilometers and connects Hangzhou's Xiaoshan International Airport, the Asian Games Village, and the downtown area, says Zhao Rui, CEO of Huawei's Zhejiang Rep Office. It is not only a critical part of the city's transportation infrastructure, but it is also the first road that many visitors to Hanghzhou experience. At peak times, traffic can be heavy. To keep it moving smoothly is of paramount importance, Zhao says. 

The Smart Airport Expressway Project makes use of several intelligent sensing devices, including cameras and mmWave radars (a special class of radars that uses short wavelength electromagnetic waves), that have been installed on lamp poles and other similar structures on both sides of the expressway. The image and radar data is uploaded to the cloud or the cloud edge (edge computing, a key 5G feature), to be continuously analyzed by AI. The technology not only detects accidents and traffic infraction, it also predicts how traffic patterns will develop further down the road in coming minutes. The data is displayed in the form of a digital twin of the highway that appears to the user as a digital hologram.

Narin Khurana

A pedestrian behaving dangerously close to a highway exit is barely visible on the video feed (left pane) but clearly noticeable (blue circle) in the digital twin.

On the digital command screen in the expressway management center, the holographic "digital road" accurately displays the size, color, model, and other information of each vehicle on the expressway in real time. Using the platform, administrators can digitally and smartly manage the expressway and monitor traffic conditions in real time to keep everyone safe, issue early warnings of congestion, and promptly detect and manage accidents.

Narin Khurana

View from the control room

"The holographic display of road information resolves many bottlenecks of traditional traffic management approaches, such as a lack of real-time information, uncontrolled driving, and poor road network response capabilities,” Zhao says. “By managing road resources in a refined and intelligent way, the project has improved both road safety and efficiency. In the first six months since the project was delivered, there have been 20% fewer accidents on the expressway, and accident detection and response have been 90% faster. Now, accidents on the expressway can be detected within just seconds.” 

The holographic road solution can respond to requests in seconds, and provide accurate positioning within 10 cm on the digital twin map. This solution is also designed to provide optimized support to cars Level 3 autonomous vehicles driving systems. 

In Hangzhou, encountering heavy traffic congestion while on the way to the airport has become a lesser worry than it used to be.